I love the familiar Christian family tradition of hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve. In our house, it’s not only proven a good way to exchange small tokens, but also a way to stave off the ‘big unwrapping’ of presents from under the tree with impatient children. According to legend (and I am guessing there are several), St Nicholas, the origin of Santa Claus / Father Christmas, tried discreetly to leave bags of gold by passing them down the chimney of a destitute widower who was struggling to raise his family alone. One of these goody bags fell into a stocking left out to dry, to be found hanging there the next day.
No gold exchanged for us. We try to keep these small stocking gifts practical and, increasingly, environmentally aware. However, inevitably, a few items here and there may have gone unappreciated on the day itself…
Sorting out some stuff for the charity shop recently, I found an unopened set of cards that were a stocking gift around five years ago, still boxed and shrink wrapped – ‘Forgotten English’ by Jeffrey Kacirk. You can read more of these “glimpses of curious English expressions” here. Digging into them, a few favourites are below.
Fancymonger – an individual in the 17th and 18th centuries using legerdemain, i.e. sleight of hand, or any clever trickery use to deceive others.
Flitterwochen – the Germanic form of honeymoon, from Chaucerian times, with ‘flitte’ meaning to flee or be fleeting, much as love is…
Galligaskins – baggy trousers worn by sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries, a corruption of the French garguesque or ‘in the Greek style’.
Tooniproperty – a form of ‘opportune’, with the prefix ‘op’ meaning before and the root from ‘portus’ or port, ie nearing the mouth of a harbour was considered a fortuitous time.
Smell-feaste – a glutton, from the 16th century, one who appears, uninvited, to share a feast.
I honestly cannot keep up with some of the neologisms, often derived from ‘text speak’, that my kids use – and yes, I am aware how ancient that makes me sound. Few of these new words and phrases seem to last the year, never mind for a century or so. It makes me reflect that writing something that will sound both contemporary yet also will not date too quickly, particularly in terms of dialogue, is quite a challenge.
In the meantime though, do not despair if this year you give a Christmas gift that does not bring immediate and evident joy to its recipient. Years later, and I am hanging on to the ‘Forgotten English’ cards. Forgotten no longer.
Season’s Greetings all.